Authorities in Hong Kong refuse to compromise with students as protests enter their fourth week
The bureaucrats and politicians, dressed in suits, crowded one side of the room directly opposite dozens of students wearing shirts that read “Freedom Now!” As the student protests enter their fourth week, the leaders of Hong Kong – formerly a Chinese ‘special administrative region’ – are doing what they can to calm the situation. The students were offered narrow compromises in an attempt to diffuse the anger and tension among the crowds. The concessions are small, and neither the Hong Kong nor the Beijing leadership are willing to give into the demands for a democratic government. Current Hong Kong leadership says that there isn’t enough time to make changes before the planned 2017 vote, but offered the possibility of some changes taking place before the vote in 2022.
“2017 doesn’t represent the end of the matter,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary. She also mentioned the possibility of “further development of our constitutional reform,” and offered to draft a report to Beijing outlining the turmoil that has gripped the nation. The protests have largely been peaceful, but there have been moments of violence, and claims of harsh police responses.
Lam opposed any sort of movement towards “civil nomination”, which would allow the residents of Hong Kong to select who appears on the ballot for Chief Executive. On orders from the Chinese government, Hong Kong will adopt a system in 2017 which a secretive committee will decide who appears on the ballot.
Civil nomination “is not a possible notion,” said Lam. “We simply cannot have ideals only. We have to have regard for reality.”
The students have been calling on Hong Kong leadership to be courageous in the face of Chinese authority, casting aside the narrow interpretations of law to demand more substantive change.
“The government should meet the public’s demands. You shouldn’t try to trump the public with the law,” said Yvonne Leung, on behalf of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. Beijing’s vision of the 2017 election leaves Hong Kong “emasculated,” said Alex Chow, secretarygeneral of the student federation. “The fact is, without democracy the government will never respect the wishes of the people.” Students fought the idea that change would have to wait until 2022. “Would you go down in history as those who have deprived Hong Kong of democracy?” asked Lester Shum, Deputy Secretary-General of the Student Federation. “We are very angry, we are enraged.”
While scoffed by the students, the government has essentially agreed that whatever happens in 2017 will simply be interim, and that it will not be the final system. Michael DeGolyer, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University believes that this sounds like a “possible opening” towards civil recommendations, if not nominations. Nonetheless, it remains clear that political authorities in Hong Kong and China have little interest in making any real changes to the electoral system before the 2017 election, and plan to go ahead with a largely unchanged version of their proposal; the same proposal that has caused such a large degree of civil unrest.